My Home Screen: March 2014

There are very few things that are as integrated into my daily life as my iPhone. For better or worse, it is is with me from the moment I wake up to the moment I set it down (after setting next day’s wake up alarm). While the device, and smartphones in general, have changed the way we interact with other people, it could be argued that they would never have reached their current levels of popularity without the advent of third-party applications. It certainly is the case for my phone, as many of the stock applications have been supplanted by solutions that better suit my needs. As a snapshot of where those needs are, here are the apps that currently reside on my home screen, as well as explanations for their presence.

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Pocket Casts (Podcast Manager): This is the app category with which I’ve done the most fiddling, switching through over a half-dozen apps before settling on Pocket Casts. While Instacast (my previous favorite) offers some features like a Mac app to sync with, Pocket Casts is the best-looking app, as well as the best app for the way I listen to podcasts. It allows me to set certain podcasts to automatically download in the background, and to set up a queue of episodes to run through while I’m in the car/bathroom/carbathroom.

Clear (To-Do): While Clear is light on features relative to other apps of its kind, it works great for when I’m quickly compiling a shopping list or simply keeping tracks of groups of people. Combine that with one of the most playful interfaces of any application, you have a checklist that’s actually a pleasure to use.

Drafts (Notes): In another crowded marketplace, Drafts differentiates itself with its versatility. While functioning well as a simple scratchpad, Drafts is then able to send your text to nearly every useful application under the sun. One of the best options for that is “Append to Dropbox”, where the application is able to add your text onto the end of an existing file in your Dropbox, which is great when jumping into more fully-featured text editors on iOS.

Fantastical (Calendar): What sets Fantastical apart from any other calendaring app I’ve seen is its natural language engine. What that means in non-buzzword terms is, rather than fussing around with a multi-field form in order to create a calendar event, I can type in something like “Lunch at McDonald’s next Thursday at noon”, and the app will be able to parse that phrase to create an event. All that’s missing is an iPad version…

Instapaper (Read-Later): While I may find dozens of links and stories over the course of a day that interest me, I don’t usually have the time to read them all in the moment. What Instapaper does is save the site as well as strip away the formatting of the site in order to make reading a much less painful experience than viewing the same content in a web browser, where every other word spawns a hovering ad of some kind.

Mailbox (Electronic Mail): While I receive dozens of emails a day, nearly all of them are daily newsletters that I don’t unsubscribe to because I’m a digital hoarder. What Mailbox does is provide me a quick way to triage all those messages, quickly deleting and archiving them until only the interesting ones remain, and leaving me with much more time to send money orders to overseas princes

Messages (Er…messaging): For sending textual messages to people. One of the two stock apps I have here, not much to explain.

OmniFocus (To-Do): What Clear offers in simplicity, OmniFocus offers in complexity. Even after spending months with the app, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the app has to offer. As if to reinforce that notion, the developers have actually released a User Manual for it on the iBooks Store (link). With so many ways to view and sort the tasks you have to complete, the app can be intimidating to get into, but becomes rewarding to use once you become more familiar with its functionality.

Music (Music?): Music. Currently experimenting with Ecoute for its queueing feature (setting up a playlist on the fly is neat).

Reeder (RSS Feeds): When Google couldn’t find a way to make money from its Reader service, the company decided to “sunset” it, much in the same way that Travis “sunset”-ed Old Yeller. In the months since, I’ve wound up using Feedbin as a replacement; it offers much of the same functionality that Google Reader did, and paying for it means that I can be more certain of its future development. One thing that has remained constant is my use of Reeder with these services, as it has consistently been the most pleasant app to use. Similar to Mailbox, I can quickly sort through hundreds of news items to view stories that I find interesting, or process them into other services like Instapaper for future reading.

Safari (Browser): The fastest web browser for iOS, the iCloud tab functionality that allows me to bring up tabs I have open on my iPad or Mac is invaluable. PRO-TIP: I also use Google Chrome on my phone. If you’re ever using my phone, do NOT open Google Chrome. This has been your warning.

TweetBot (the Twitter client): Probably the app I spend the most time in during the day, TweetBot is essential to my enjoyment of my phone. While I’ve tried other apps like Twitterrific (which is also great), I keep coming back to TweetBot mainly for its ability to load up many more tweets at once than any other app I’ve tried. Also, it still shows me the clients that people use to post, which is fun for academic reasons. Also, the ability to sync my reading position across the iPad and Mac apps is a huge selling point. Half of this description is words that didn’t exist ten years ago.